By Dipesh Chakrabarty

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Before we examine the forms that this cultivation will take, we need to resolve the problem of infinite regression that is suggested by the appearance of a beginner so late in the poem (in passus 15), whose tilling is what makes the poem necessary, and even what makes the poem itself. This problem is really just an example of one that interested a number of medieval physicists and logicians, who discussed it most directly in treatises about the logical quandaries of beginning. In asking whether motion can have a beginning, they realize that beginning itself is a paradoxical notion.

71 The effectiveness of this calculation, a calculation that is the origin of speech, is determined by its ability to obliterate what it replaces, by its ability to forget its beginning. Since speech is the “first social institution,” as Rousseau says (230), its beginning is natural. ). Song, too, he argues, is a feature of intervals (that is, of harmony), a beginning he forgets in his apparent desire, as Derrida says, “to pretend that the ‘fineness of inf[l]ections’ and of the ‘oral accent’ did not already and always lend itself to spatialization, geometricization, grammaticalization, regularization” (201).

The logician William of Sherwood imagines it as a negation, but in terms that show how unavoidably we associate priority with reality: “What begins to be ceases not to be. . What be- 19 20 A Fourteenth-Century Incipit gins to be takes being into itself, and what takes being into itself casts out not-being, and what casts out not-being ceases not to be; therefore . . ”47 Although a logical absurdity, his description of beginning attributes a kind of being to nonbeing, even if only in the form of negative predication.

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